INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A proposed $2.8 billion coal-gasification plant that won a reprieve last month from the Indiana Supreme Court is facing a new challenge, this time from environmental groups that contend the southern Indiana project's construction permit is invalid and expired last month.
In an appeal filed Monday with the state's Office of Environmental Adjudication, the Sierra Club and Valley Watch Inc. argue the permit is void because the public wasn't given a chance to weigh in on developer Indiana Gasification LCC's request for a six-month permit extension.
The groups argue that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management was required under state law to provide a 30-day public comment period on the request but approved it Dec. 26 — the same day the developers applied for the extension. Their appeal asks an administrative law judge to strike down IDEM's decision and declare that the permit has expired.
The swift permit extension approval is "an insult to all Hoosiers," said Jodi Perras, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Indiana.
"IDEM's hasty same-day approval demonstrates that our environmental agency merely rubber stamps requests they receive from industry," she said in a statement.
IDEM spokesman Dan Goldblatt said the agency isn't required to provide a 30-day public comment period for requests for permit extensions.
"An extension is not a change to the permit. IDEM has discretion under the Clean Air Act to grant extensions," Goldblatt said in a statement.
Perras said the Sierra Club's reading of Indiana law is that it allows a number of exceptions to the 30-day comment period requirement but "this type of permit extension is not one of them."
The groups' appeal also contends IDEM did not provide a required justification for extending the permit, which will expire June 27 if construction work on the plant does not begin by that date.
Goldblatt said Indiana law requires permit holders, not IDEM, to provide a justification for a permit extension request — and that Indiana Gasification included that in their request.